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Green Thumbs for Silver Spoons

Better learning through private-school agriculture.

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The organic-eating, Whole Foods–shopping parents at St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s, the Episcopal private school in Morningside Heights, want their kids to get back to the land. So they raised $500,000 to build a rooftop greenhouse, set to open December 3, where the school’s 380-odd students, in preschool through eighth grade, will plant, tend, harvest, and eat fruits, vegetables, and herbs as part of their science curriculum. “We want our children to know this without it being self-taught in their thirties,” says Susan Mohi, the parent who led the campaign. Students will cover topics like chemistry, weather, genetics, and nutrition; they’ll also learn where their food comes from, how to grow it properly, and how to eat it well.

It’s the first mini-farm at a city school, though a few prep schools, including Phillips Exeter Academy, have started student-farm programs. But it’s not a kind of upper-crust 4-H. “We’re trying to prepare these kids for a world of scarcity in natural resources,” says Jennifer Wilhelm, Exeter’s sustainability coordinator. “They need to think that everything is connected, because it is.” That’s the lesson at St. Hilda’s, too. “Even with something like marmalade,” Mohi says, “the kids learn that stuff that doesn’t look like it comes from fruits and vegetables really does. And that it takes work to taste good.”

Enviro-awareness isn’t new to the school, which started serving Greenmarket produce in its cafeteria two years ago and buys wind-farm power credits. The greenhouse, says Christopher Daly, who has three kids at St. Hilda’s, is a way for “the school to be a little more active and demonstrative about its environmental efforts.” When the school year opened, St. Hilda’s seventh-graders started growing carrots in window boxes. The first crop came last month: a gnarled, three-inch carrot that now sits proudly on the desk of head of school Virginia Connor. “I thought it was going to be all weird because it was in such a small container,” says seventh-grader Bebe LeGardeur, who tended the veggie. “But it turned out nice.” School head Connor has big plans for it. “I sort of want to get it bronzed,” she says. “But I need to find an environmental way to do that.”

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